Holiday in Sri Lanka

After quite a hectic work schedule, I applied for a month's leave to proceed to my native land: Sri Lanka. It was approved and I left home in Mayland, USA where I live with my family on December 3rd, 2019. And, arrived there on December 5th, 2019. This was due to a long lay over in London.

It was great to be back in Sri Lanka. The weather there in the month of December is usually not warm or humid. But, it seems like everything, weather patterns, too have changed. Very warm and humid afternoons and then the thunderstorms associated with lightning and rain showers were experienced in the evenings. 

I was able to attend my nephew's wedding, and then a very unfortunate and sad situation of sudden death of a cousin. All in a nut-shell.

Also patronized my clubs, 'Capri' and CR&FC (Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club).

Christmas was peaceful and we had a small family get together at home with live music provided by a three piece 'Calypso band'.

My mother who is topping ninety years came and spent about sixteen days with me. That was great!

"All that starts well, must end well" and, I left Colombo December 30th, and arrived in Maryland on December 31st, 2019.

Wood pellets

Pellet fuels (or pellets) are biofuels made from compressed organic matter or biomass.[1] Pellets can be made from any one of five general categories of biomass: industrial waste and co-products, food wasteagricultural residuesenergy crops, and virgin lumber.[2] Wood pellets are the most common type of pellet fuel and are generally made from compacted sawdust[3] and related industrial wastes from the milling of lumber, manufacture of wood products and furniture, and construction.[4] Other industrial waste sources include empty fruit bunches, palm kernel shells, coconut shells, and tree tops and branches discarded during logging operations.[5][6] So-called "black pellets" are made of biomass, refined to resemble hard coal and were developed to be used in existing coal-fired power plants.[7] Pellets are categorized by their heating valuemoisture and ash content, and dimensions. They can be used as fuels for power generation, commercial or residential heating, and cooking.[8] Pellets are extremely dense and can be produced with a low moisture content (below 10%) that allows them to be burned with a very high combustion efficiency.[9]
Further, their regular geometry and small size allow automatic feeding with very fine calibration. They can be fed to a burner by auger feeding or by pneumatic conveying. Their high density also permits compact storage and transport over long distance. They can be conveniently blown from a tanker to a storage bunker or silo on a customer's premises.[10]
A broad range of pellet stoves, central heating furnaces, and other heating appliances have been developed and marketed since the mid-1980s.[11] In 1997 fully automatic wood pellet boilers with similar comfort level as oil and gas boilers became available in Austria.[12] With the surge in the price of fossil fuels since 2005, the demand for pellet heating has increased in Europe and North America, and a sizable industry is emerging. According to the International Energy Agency Task 40, wood pellet production has more than doubled between 2006 and 2010 to over 14 million tons.[13] In a 2012 report, the Biomass Energy Resource Center says that it expects wood pellet production in North America to double again in the next five years.


Long absence from the blog...

It seems that, I have not updated the blog for nearly five months. From about  July to December each year, there are a lot of wood pellets in bulk loaded on the East Coast of U.S. We are in charge of most of the vessels that load this cargo in Chesapeake, Virginia, Wilmington, North Carolina, Panama City, Florida and Savannah, Georgia.

From about early July to early November last year, I kept shuttling between Chesapeake and Wilmington. I was in charge to see the vessel pass the Hold cleanliness inspection and thereafter load maximum cargo the vessel could carry, considering stability parameters and draft restrictions.

The above is not an excuse for being away from the blog, but the type of work I was involved in, has a major role to play in that.

The crew we meet on ships

I have also observed ,from the ships I have visited for surveys, Senior Officers of the tankers, Gas carriers and product carriers were either Indians, Russians or Ukrainians. The ratings were from also those countries or from Philippines. Most of the bulk carriers were manned by Filipinos.

On speaking with the crew on some bulk carriers, I have found some of the contracts are long as  much as nine months.   Surely, that is too long. Unlike in the past the port stays are  very short. And upon berthing the vessel,  authorities board the vessel to inspect and grant inward clearance. Soon after the inward clearance is granted  there are so many to follow, which includes us, other surveyors such as Port State Control, Flag State , and also Class Surveyors.

Life is not easy especially for the Master, Chief Officer and Chief Engineer. When they get breathing space,  almost a day is gone!

I too have experienced such situations, during the time I sailed as Master. This is the life of a seafarer!!

Present day Mariners

I visit a ship to attend to surveys almost every other day.  During last three years, I have hardly found  any Officers or ratings on  board a ship from the U.K. or from any of the Scandinavian countries. Instead, present day seafarers mostly are Filipinos, Indians, Chinese, Russians, Ukrainians, and from few other countries.

Then what happened to the Britishers , Scandinavians, and Greeks? Once when I met a  Captain of a ship from Netherlands, I asked  him why we do not find aforementioned nationalities on board ships, any more?

His answer was, what they earn ashore is almost similar to what is earned at sea. Then, why does any one want to leave the families and go to sea and live a lonely life! Although the answers was acceptable, there was still something missing, to my understanding. 

I decided to call it a day to my seafaring....

After sailing on a ship on short contract , I decided ton quit sea life in August,2015. It was not a planned one but I did it. Went rough a bit of rough weather in dry land due to unplanned quitting of work.

Then in November, 2016 back to ships. This time not to go out sea but to attend Marine Surveys. The first few months kept me very busy with my work, working 24/7. The load eased up and I was transferred from New Orleans Office to Maryland office, where I am at present.

With Marine Survey I do not get much time for my writing. But, I am hopeful of breakthrough to my book 'Troubled Waters' which is presently available on leading  book stores in the U.S., and on Amazon.

"There , no medicine like hope, no incentive so great,  and tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow"-   O. S. Marden



All work on Piyasa was completed by end June, 2015. I met almost all the CEO's of  TV station  in Sri Lanka trying my best to find a TV station to accept the Tele-Drama. With help of God I managed to give the Tele-Dram to Independent Television Net Work of Sri Lanka. The contract was signed in September, 2015 and telecasting commenced on October 19th, 2015. It had 84 episodes, and had good response from the viewers.  Unfortunately, we could not include subtitles.

Telecasting of the Tele-Drama ended in February 2016. The TV station wanted another one but we were not ready. I am hopeful, another story I have will bring in to small screen, soon.

The tele-drama ' Piyasa' won seven  awards at SIGNIS Sri Lanka awards presentation in October, 2017. This was very encouraging news for me.

The year 2014

We had many visitors during summer time of year 2014, and most of them were from Sri Lanka. With them we did a few trips to Washington DC.

I was on vacation during the time we had visitors, so it worked very well. Each time we visited Washington DC, we stayed in a Guest House called Adams Inn. It was good and suited our budgets. But, to get to  location of the White House and all Museums we had to commute by cab. We did not take the car because parking is very difficult and expensive,too.

I went back to sea in September 2014, and returned home from the ship in January 2015.

I was looking for avenues to do a movie or a Tele-Drama (mini movies) using a story that I have written. It worked very well! Four of my friends back in Sri Lanka gave me initial financial support. And, work on the Tele-Drama which was in Sinhala started in February 2015. The name of the Tele-Drama was ' PIYASA'.  Piyasa in English is 'Shelter' or 'Roof'.

Interview with Nadine Meritz

Just a re-cap on very bad weather we experienced on a voyage from  Aberdeen, Scotland to Lisbon, Portugal which is included in the following interview:

Author Interview - John De Silva - Troubled Waters

John de Silva is a master mariner and Author of Troubled Waters.

Troubled Water reflects on the highs and lows of the professional seafarer’s life. Troubled Waters I the story of a voyage that Captain John de Silva undertook with all its attended vicissitudes and death-defying miseries.

John, thanks so much for granting us this interview.

John as a start, tell our readers a bit more about yourself? How did you come to this stage where you decided to put all your experiences down on paper?

 I was born in the post independent era of Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known then. I come from a Catholic family. My father worked for the Sri Lanka government and my mother was a housewife. I am the eldest in the family of three. Both my brother and sister are married and have families. My father , who was everything to us, passed away in April 1989; my mother is still living, at 83 years of age.

I had my secondary education at a leading Catholic school in Colombo, St Joseph’s College. 
I ventured into seafaring in 1974, and I got married in 1983.

 Now I live in New York with my family, wife, son and daughter. My son works in graphic design, and my daughter studies medicine at City University of New York. My wife works for Davids Bridal.  Now that they are pursuing things they love, I allowed myself to do the same.

I used to tell stories of things I experienced on ships and ashore , and also about some of the people I have met in different parts of the world. Having listened to my stories, my wife and few of our friends persuaded me to put my stories on paper. And, I first started to write in 2007.

My first book was Through Deep Waters which was published in Sri Lanka in April, 2008. I knew that I could write as I came under the tutelage and influence of Rev. Father Mercelline Jayakody, a versatile writer and Sri-Lankan national literary figure. I had my writer’s baptism under his watchful eyes during my college days. Father Jayakody is now gone to his eternal rest.

What made you decide to strive for Captain? How many years did it take in the field to take up the rank of captain?

My parents, naturally, had very high hopes for me, I being the eldest in the family. They expected me to become a medical doctor or some sort of professional. But a chance meeting with a naval officer and a visit to a ship berthed in Colombo harbour developed my youthful fascination for seafaring. 


The ship in the photo is the one I visited, the “Lanka Rani.”

I joined the merchant Navy as a Officer Cadet in 1974. My total time in training – cadetship-- was three years and three months. At the end of training period I enrolled in Sir John Cass Nautical College in London and studied there and passed my Second Mate- Foreign Going Exam. Thereafter I sailed as Second Officer (Navigating Officer), on various cargo-ships and all of those were trading on international voyages. I should have entered College in 1981 to study for my First Mates Exam but there was a delay mainly due to financial reasons.

Finally I joined Lal Bhadur Shastri Nautical & Engineering College in Mumbai and studied for my First Mates – Foreign Going exam. I passed the exam in July 1985 and returned to sea. I sailed as the First Mate or Chief Officer, the executive officer on board and second in command to Master. Thereafter I completed four years service as Chief Officer on board ships. I joined the Australian Maritime College in Sydney and graduated as a Master Mariner in 1989. I earned my first command in June 1990, since then have been commanding merchant ships round the globe. I am also a marine surveyor and a consultant.

Do you have set routes you travel?

No. We do not have set routes. It all depends on the ship’s charterer and the charter.

For example: the last ship that I commanded was chartered by Safmarine, Belgium. And the route was between North Europe and West Africa including some off lying Islands like Las Palmas, Malabo (Equatorial Guinea). 
The vessel I am in command of now is chartered by American President Lines. The route is between Central American and South American ports on Pacific-side.

Tell our readers a bit about the dangers you encounter at sea.

The above photo was taken after a storm, on the following morning when one of my Officers could go out and by this time the sea and rolling had reduced to a great extent.

There are myriad dangerous encounters I have had at sea.

I will touch on the most recent one.  December 7, 2011 became another important day in my Life.  It was evening on that day and the weather was very bad -- very bad indeed. The ship was in the North Sea on a voyage from Aberdeen, Scotland to Lisbon, Portugal.

The ship was going through a storm. In this condition of heavy sea a swell was on the beam of the ship and the ship was rolling heavily and violently at times. At that time the swell height ranged from 20 to 25 metres. Unfortunately, at this time no adjustment of our course was possible due to the presence of numerous oil rigs on one side and underlying dangers such as reefs and shallow water on the other side. And once the vessel was on the trough between two waves the main engine stopped. What a precarious situation it was!!! 

 I looked at the next wave that was coming toward the ship which was in dead condition, and thought, Oh NO SURVIVAL!!! Because I knew the ship could not ride the wave in that condition, and capsizing was imminent.

My immediate thought was about my wife and children and about other sixteen people on board and their families. What a way to die! When in the water of sub zero temperatures there was no chance of survival without thermal protection. There was no time for that anyway.

I prayed silently and asked God, Is this your final call for all of us on board? Still looking at the wave I thought of the hymn, “Nearer my God to Thee....” and turned toward my first Mate who was standing in front of the radar. I am sure he was also staring at the wave. He then turned toward me in the dim light of the radar and said, “Good bye, Sir. It was great...” and suddenly he got very busy with responding to Main Engine control orders from the Engine room.

We believed that God’s hand came in and started the Main engine. Later we found It was our Electrical Engineer who had started the main engines. And, that is how God works, I think. The Chief Engineer was injured – he suffered a head injury following a nasty fall in the engine room due to heavy rolling. 

As the engine started the ship rode the wave taking a very dangerous roll. But we

were saved. Thank God!

I suggest you see the film The Poseidon Adventure which dramatizes what I experienced—though there were no survivors on that ship.

For your information, the ship on which we had this precarious experience was 143 metres long and was about 12,500 tonnes.

Is the book – Troubled Waters the only book readers can expect or are there more to come?

No. My next book will be ready in few months. It is also based on seafarers and seafaring. I am planning to re-publish that with Story Merchant Books. The one that I am writing now is of a different genre. I’m also planning to do a Romance, too. And no doubt more than one more based on seafaring.

Tell our readers a bit more about what they could expect from your book.

I have never been an 8 to 5 person. Then is this the reason I decided to quit a good shore job – a very good job, actually, and return to sea. In other words when I am on dry land and my life is flowing smoothly, that is when I long for the wide open spaces of the ocean, the life of a seafarer.

How I paved my way to a job at sea.

Then all the experiences – bad ones: Collision to mutiny.

And so begins an almost picaresque voyage up the coast of West Africa, where almost everything that can go wrong does. From a plague of cockroaches onboard, to the seasick chef who can’t cook, and the assistant cook who won’t cook.

The crew themselves are mostly from Myanmar, silent but deadly. Then there is the Sri Lankan, second engineer, Wije, whose work is appalling but whose cooking is sublime, whose crowning achievement during un-berthing of the ship at port of Matadi, Congo, is the attempted murder of the Chief Engineer.

But the ship’s management refuses to get rid of him, and it says much for the Captain’s generosity of spirit that on Wije’s last night he takes him out for a slap-up dinner and a night in town, the port of Dar-Es- Salaam.

Then there is Reema, a Tanzanian born Indian girl who gets pregnant and is subsequently abandoned by her Tanzanian boy friend, and is forced into lifetime of prostitution. The Captain

goes to meet Reema’s estranged parents, and against the wishes of her aggressive brother manages to persuade them to take their daughter back.

The villain through the whole book is the ship’s management, which unaccountably fails to answer messages when the needs of the ship are at their greatest.

Add to this the stowaway who creeps onto the ship and needs to be disembark.

From your blog I have noticed that you show a lot of interest in ancient Navigation – can you elaborate a bit more on some of the history and your favourites.

When I started my sea career there were Electronic Navigation aids such as Decca and Loran already in existence and were fitted in some ships. This is in addition to Radar and Directional Finder (DF).

But none of the ships that I sailed on during my first few years of sea faring were fitted with Decca or Loran. Then the Satellite Navigator was introduced. But I never had the luxury of that either. For me it was navigating with the aid of Celestial objects when in open ocean, terrestrial objects near the coast, and older electronic aids such as Radar and DF.

Let me tell you briefly about navigation. Navigation is to take a ship:

In the safest

the shortest

and the most economical route.

So, we use celestial objects--sun. moon, stars, and planets--to obtain the ship’s position whenever possible. 

My favourite was obtaining the ship’s position in the morning and in the evening by taking the angle of few stars which are perpendicular or nearly perpendicular to each other. Also watched the Southern Cross and Pole Star whenever possible.

During the days of sailing vessels, the old navigators also used the magnetic compass and celestial objects as navigational aids, especially for ocean crossings. On a day with clear skies, after sun set, a ship heading North would take the Pole Star as reference and heading South would take the Southern Cross as reference or guiding mark.

Then there is the sun rise and sun set to find East and West.

Let me introduce briefly some historical mariners who have made invaluable contributions by their marine products-navigational aids:

Admiral Zheng’s most important technology was the compass. Chinese scientists knew as early as the third century AD that iron ore, called magnetite, aligned itself in a North/South position.

Then the marine chronometer designed at sea by Yorkshire born clock maker John Harrison. Until the 18th century there were no clocks that could accurately keep time at sea-the rolling waves, changes in temperature and humidity played havoc with inner working any mechanical timepiece.

And, it says that John Harrison’s product was critical to the success of Captain Cook.

The compass, marine chronometer and sextant was all that old navigators had at hand, and they used them well.

The sextant had been invented by Thomas Godfrey in 1731. The first marine sextant had been built by Jesse Ramsden of London, England, in 1795. that we went through on a voyage from 

Changing Shipping Companies

From the year 2010 to 2011, I changed a couple of companies. But kept sailing with taking long breaks.

2011 through MercMarine in Colombo I joined a vessel chartered by  APL.  It was good sailing.  And, the ship on regular basis called at few ports in the West Coast of Central and South America.

In 2012, I got transferred to Safmarine and sailed on the Own by them.  What is most important
in that year was completing and publishing my Novel ' Troubled Waters'. It is in my Facebook page.

Following is  a review of my novel:

Troubled Waters; prepared heart!

By David Wilkerson

Captain De Silva's book 'Troubled Waters' was to me an uncommonly honest look at human failure and triumph from individual levels on up. The good Captain clearly does not subscribe to today's "You can't handle the truth!" mentality as he makes it clear that EVERY person must face the truth in time's irresistible flow. This work rates five stars by me because it blends the excitement that so many readers crave in our unexciting lives with the minutia of decision making that we equally wish to avoid. Factually, our challenges in life often occur at the hands of others, and commonly through impersonal or uncaring greed. Captain De Silva's uncommon virtue is his ability to focus the reader's attention on this human characteristic without hypocritical venom. To see corruption covering a land like a flood, the right thing to do is to focus good where you can with full acknowledgment of the source of that good. This he does.

Very recently, one of my aviation students asked me about the duties of a sea-captain. It was my great pleasure to have him obtain this book, for It answers my student better than any other that I am currently aware can. If your interest is not in the sea, but in being a good manager or leader, read this book. If your life consists of dealing with those above you taking unfair advantage of you, read this book. If you are overwhelmed with the feeling that life has not given you what you deserve, read this book. If you believe that every person in authority in any company is only clawing their way up the golden ladder that you will never be allowed to touch; read this book!